Narco Violence Can’t Be Quarantined: What Have We Wrought?

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

By Jamie Haase, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

In September 2006, Mexico’s president-elect, Felipe Calderon, was anxiously waiting for December to roll around. His soon-to-be Christmas gift would come in the form of taking the reins from President Vicente Fox and launching an all-out offensive against the country’s drug cartels. But until then, his hands were tied, and he could only watch as drug traffickers continued to shred his country apart.

Calderon’s home state of Michoacán was especially under siege at the time. During that same month of September, members of La Familia Michoacán had entered a small-town nightclub and rolled the severed heads of five of their rivals onto the dance floor, marking the beginning of Mexico’s Decapitation Era. La Familia was laying claim to the region, yet Calderon could do nothing but wait as the calendar days slowly went by.

Today, six years and 60,000 deaths later, new president-elect Enrique Pena Nieto finds himself in the same boat Calderon once occupied. With Mexico’s current reputation for violence and with tourism revenues tanking more and more each day, surely plans are in motion for deploying a new strategy this time around. With so much carnage in such little time, what more is needed to prove that the laws of supply and demand cannot be broken?

I might be taking a different tone if the violence had at least stalled during Calderon’s administration, but all indications suggest it hasn’t even peaked yet. So far, 2012 is on track to be the deadliest year yet, and there are no signs of the savagery slowing down anytime soon, as is illustrated by the decapitations of seven family members (including four young children) just this past weekend in Veracruz.

While war rages in Mexico, Americans continue to turn their heads from it. As a former special agent with the feds who worked along the Rio Grande, one of my main goals now as a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) is to help reverse the apathy with which Americans regard the violence across our southern border. Much of our shared territory with Mexico is desolate, rugged, unforgiving and unsecured. With the most vicious killers imaginable freely crossing the 2,000-mile-long boundary daily, America has become littered with runaway criminals as a result of the drug war. And choosing not to recognize this migration won’t diminish the reality of the lasting effects it will have for us here in the United States.

A question I’m often asked is how legalizing drugs, especially marijuana, will change any of this. My response is that it’s the very illicitness of the drug trade that’s responsible for creating these criminals. Without the profitability from trafficking drugs, cartels would be largely nonexistent, and Mexico would have far fewer chainsaw-toting psychos cutting people up for a living. Of course, other organized crime activities like kidnapping and extortion won’t be eliminated overnight (as I’m often reminded), but with drugs and the profits they bring off the table, law enforcement could reckon with these crimes much more efficiently.

In my mid-thirties now, after having grown up in the FBI-and DEA-infested town of Quantico, Virginia, it seems like only yesterday when violence from the Colombian cocaine trade ruled the day. Miami’s cocaine cowboy era was a little before my time, but I certainly recall seeing the fall of Pablo Escobar and his relentless Medellin Cartel, only to watch the rise of the more diplomatic Cali Cartel soon thereafter. My original federal employer, the U.S. Customs Service, would later be instrumental in dismantling the Cali Cartel (via interdiction efforts like Operation Cornerstone in South Florida and the Caribbean). But foolishly targeting Colombian traffickers only opened the door for Mexican traffickers, and moved this unwinnable war even closer to our home front.

An historic interview explaining this shift in drug supply from South America to Mexico took place this week at the notorious Altiplano prison. Miguel Felix Gallardo, often referred to as Mexico’s original El Padrino, or Godfather, answered questions about the history of the drug trade (along with the futilities of policing against it). Gallardo was the primary founder of the Guadalajara Cartel, and upon his arrest in 1989, the organization splintered into the rival cartels witnessed in Mexico today. Several present day capos like Joaquin Guzman and the Beltran Leyva brothers honed their skills under the tutelage of El Padrino.

Until drug policy in the United States changes, all we can do is sit back and watch as spillover violence continues to seep across our border. Since polls show that a majority of Americans are now onboard with regulating marijuana like we currently regulate alcohol, I personally believe that’s where the most immediate efforts for drug reform need to be made. If we can get cannabis legalized and regulated, it will not only take much of the wind from the cartels’ sails, but it will also deplete their bank accounts by at least half. From my experience speaking on behalf of LEAP, I know there is a widespread misconception about just how valuable marijuana is to drug traffickers south of the border. But marijuana smuggling made the cartels what they are today, and the crop will forever be their numero uno cash cow. Harder drugs are just the icing on the cake.

Later this week, I plan to post more about the misconceptions surrounding Mexican “brick weed,” along with details of the cat-and-mouse games being played out right now along the Southwest border.

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18 Responses to “Narco Violence Can’t Be Quarantined: What Have We Wrought?”

  1. #1 |  Stephen | 

    I think legalizing marijuana will also bite into that “icing on the cake” in the same way it would bite into the profits from alcohol.

  2. #2 |  PersonFromPorlock | 

    Why should the drug cartels be any less violent towards legal competitors under a legalized drugs regime than they are towards their illegal competitors now? A few mom-and-pop stores that sell weed go up in flames with the owners inside, Pfizer’s vice-president for recreational pharmaceuticals dies messily in the executive parking lot… pretty soon drugs are functionally illegal again, it’s just being enforced by the other side.

    Mind you, I’m all for ending the WOD. But having created a cartel monster, we may find the only way to get out of the war is to surrender.

  3. #3 |  PersonFromPorlock | 

    If what I suggest above proves true, the alternative to surrendering is to treat the cartels as hostile foreign invaders and use our military to go into Mexico and kill people and break things until the cartels no longer represent a threat.

  4. #4 |  zendingo | 

    “Why should the drug cartels be any less violent towards legal competitors under a legalized drugs regime than they are towards their illegal competitors now?”

    of course, just like we have mobsters going after coors execs and attacking fat tire brewers…………

  5. #5 |  Stephen | 

    #2 | PersonFromPorlock |

    1. Too many Mom and Pop stores. Some Moms and Pops with guns.
    2. Pfizer is already rich and can retaliate with mercenaries.
    3. People will grow their own.
    4. Cartels will have less money and therefore less power than now.

  6. #6 |  liberranter | 

    @#2: By the time (Alcohol) Prohibition in America had ended in 1933, the (non-state) criminal gangs that controlled the manufacture and distribution of alcohol had already seen the end coming and had already shifted the bulk of their operations to other lucrative, prohibited activities/substances such as hard narcotics. Is there any reason to believe that today’s drug cartels would react any differently? As Jamie Haase mentioned, kidnapping and extortion will still pose a problem, but without the profits from the illicit drug trade provide insufficient income to be a primary point of profit. Still, there are no doubt a whole host of victimless acts and products that the State has criminalized (or will soon criminalize) that the cartels will be more than happy to provide.

  7. #7 |  johnl | 

    PersonfromPorlock, we send the military to South America all the time to destroy plants and hunt drug smugglers. So your idea is just more of the same.

    You are aware that booze was illegal once, and that the mafia lost the market, except for a few places like PA, when prohibition ended.

  8. #8 |  liberranter | 

    @#6: make that “…illicit drug trade, this will probably provide…”

    Sorry about that.

  9. #9 |  Boxy | 

    #2

    People who are working in a legal business are much more inclined to speak up about things like murder, extortion, or robbery since they don’t have to worry about the police taking them in for doing their normal business. This gives them much more protection from the state, and even if that is insufficient, it makes it easier for them to maintain their own security.

  10. #10 |  Red | 

    How about the Mexican government legalizes drugs and takes over the drug running operations? That would kill the cartels funding source and end the reason for the violence. If the US get’s upset about tell them to pound sand.

  11. #11 |  Dante | 

    Legalize cannabis? End prohibition?

    Not likely to happen. Why?

    There’s to much (budget) money in it. There are only two groups of humans who profit from prohibition – Drug Barons and Drug Warriors. If prohibition of cannabis ended, both groups would lose a ton of money and power.

    In this country, any attempt at ending prohibition must go through the Drug Warriors for their approval. Surprise, Surprise!! They keep blocking it, using any means possible. Same with the Drug Barons down south.

    So don’t hold your breath waiting for the Drug Warriors/Barons to derail their own gravy train. We The People will have to do it for them by electing candidates who hate the War On Drugs as much as we do.

  12. #12 |  Bob | 

    #10 Red

    How about the Mexican government legalizes drugs and takes over the drug running operations? That would kill the cartels funding source and end the reason for the violence. If the US get’s upset about tell them to pound sand.

    That would just start up a whole new level of violence after the State Department declares the Mexican Government to be “terrorists.”

  13. #13 |  PersonFromPorlock | 

    “of course, just like we have mobsters going after coors execs and attacking fat tire brewers…………”

    Next to the drug cartels, prohibition gangs were a few guys who were kind to their mothers.

  14. #14 |  Jamie Haase | 

    Thank you all for the responses, and for having me as a guest blogger this week!

  15. #15 |  marie | 

    There’s to much (budget) money in it. There are only two groups of humans who profit from prohibition – Drug Barons and Drug Warriors. If prohibition of cannabis ended, both groups would lose a ton of money and power.

    Keep your eye on the war against porn. Drug warriors become porn warriors. It begins with child porn but I predict that it will expand. The WOD is coming to an end and the US justice system and the prison system need something. Porn is a safe target because…who defends child porn users? And after the media gets hold of how nasty legal adult porn is, the adult porn user may find themselves in the same lonely position.

  16. #16 |  Chris in WI | 

    Not one of you mentioned freedom of choice. Freedom without choices isn’t free. It is precisely the ability to choose to make good and bad choices that makes you free.

    Why can’t auto manufacturers choose to make cars that run on hemp ethanol?

    We are talking about a drug that has never been shown to kill someone directly. Perspective people!

  17. #17 |  MH | 

    A porn war makes a criminal out of, like, every male in the country, and many women. The lesson learned from alcohol prohibition is to target demographics that are scary to white middle America — black men, Muslims, “dopers” and dealers, demographics that can be repressed without turning the bulk of voters against the law.

  18. #18 |  Windy | 

    Besides freedom of choice, commenters also neglected to mention self-ownership/self-determination. If I own myself, NO ONE has the right, and no government has the legitimate, legal power to tell me what I can do with or to my own body.

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